by Kate Storey - Citizen’s Climate lobby - Dauphin, Manitoba
Farmers and ranchers are among those most affected by the climate, and yet agriculture is a contributor of climate changing greenhouse gas emissions. As we work our fields and care for our livestock, it’s hard to imagine how our day to day farm decisions can have an impact on the atmosphere and on the heat, drought, floods, and weather extremes that affect our yields. Farming activities can store carbon and nutrients in the soil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Farming activities can also release chemicals into the air that accumulate, destabilizing the climate we depend on.
Fortunately, there are climate friendly farming practices that are both good for the environment and good for farm net incomes. Although the choices that we make on our individual farms may seem insignificant, the widespread adoption of climate friendly farm practices can lead to an agriculture system in which emissions are reduced and carbon is captured in the soil in sufficient quantities to help stabilize the climate. We can all do our part.
The largest source of farm greenhouse gases is nitrogen fertilizer. It has been shown that almost half of agricultural emissions come from the production, transportation and application of synthetic fertilizers and from sprays. Farm inputs are expensive and can easily be wasted. The obvious solution is to use them wisely and sparingly. The 4R program outlines how to achieve an immediate 15% reduction in synthetic fertilizer emissions simply by using fertilizer from the right source and applying it at the right rate, time and place. The same 4R idea can be applied to pesticide applications, saving the farm money, reducing the chemical load on the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A growing number of farms are adopting techniques to naturally regenerate soil nutrients. Techniques such as crop rotations, cover cropping, intercropping and the working of green crops into the soil are effective ways to increase soil nutrients and reduce the need for purchased chemical inputs.
Farmers are increasingly recognizing the value of what used to be considered “waste” lands. It is now recognized that those areas of trees, grass or wetland are significant contributors to crop success, vigor and yield. Trees and grasslands are nature’s best carbon capture technology, stabilizing the water cycles while providing a refuge for the species that pollinate and protect our crops. Integrating trees and shelterbelts takes little space but can increase yields for a significant part of the surrounding field. There are new climate friendly cattle grazing techniques which allow a pasture time to rest and re-grow, capturing more carbon while increasing the productivity of the land and the farmer’s profits. The old ways of removing every tree, draining every slough, blackening the soil, grazing every blade of grass and then buying synthetic nutrients, have been shown to be economically and environmentally unsustainable. There is a new way of farming that uses natural and regenerative soil building techniques to grow good-yielding crops without the need for high input costs.
Off the farm, there is growing interest in rebuilding the local food economy and reducing the transportation that is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. The pandemic has inspired public dissatisfaction with the frailty of global food monopolies and the knowledge that the transportation of livestock, grain, feed and finished food products over great distances does not result in tasty, fresh food. Canadians want to know where their food comes from and how it was produced. They don’t want to depend on imported food, imported workers or food monopolies that can be suddenly shut down.
Think how much more livable our world will be if we rebuild the local food systems that create jobs in our rural towns and put fresher food on Canadian’s plates. On our farms, we can provide space for the beneficial species that protect and pollinate our crops by leaving a few hectares of natural trees and wetlands. We can reduce the chemical load in the environment by buying less chemical fertilizer and by using soil regenerating, carbon capturing farm methods. We can all do our part to create a resilient, sustainable food system and a livable climate for future generations.